EDITORIAL: Airport progress

By NEMS Daily Journal

The announcement this week that the Federal Aviation Administration has granted $544,000 to the Tupelo Regional Airport for design of its 650-foot runway extension is a necessary and welcome step toward the grand prize: $8.15 million to make the runway 7,150-feet long.
Some who criticize plans for the runway extension because Tupelo’s commercial air service has declined quantitatively in recent years take too short a view. If demand for passenger service from Tupelo grows – as seems likely with the advent of Toyota and the expected surge of new jobs in the region – options beyond Delta service only to Memphis could present themselves, with Delta or perhaps another airline and a different hub.
The bottom line is that unless Tupelo Regional Airport continues improvements, it eliminates many of the possibilities.
It’s not certain when FAA itself will have the necessary money to make the grant for the construction. Its status is uncertain because a long-term funding bill has not passed in four years. FAA operates for now on extensions – the same way the federal government operates often via bipartisan “continuing resolutions” holding spending at existing levels.
The latest FAA extension expires July 22, but another extension is anticipated.
The project, which will add 650 feet to the north end of the runway, will cost at least $8.15 million, based on a study done by engineering firm Neel-Schaffer last year.
The grant also will help pay for a wildlife hazard assessment study.
That part of the study is about wildlife and the hazards posed to aircraft and, of course, human life.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a database of accidents and incidents involving wildlife and airplanes. The report shows more than 82,057 strikes from 1,418 airports in the United States and 207 foreign airports from January 1990 through December 2007, and as expected, most involve some kind of bird.
However, incidents also have involved animals like rabbits, deer and even moose. Several years ago, a fox on the runway was implicated in a non-fatal crash at Oxford-University Airport.
Airport Administrator Josh Abramson said the airport would have to go to the state to finance the extension project if FAA can’t come through.
The chances are better with FAA.
Tupelo has had commercial air service for more than 50 years, and it has had cycles involving higher volume as well as fewer flights.
The advent of all-jet service by Delta in September changes the challenges and possibilities.